We have been reviewing the steps and transitions that need to occur in the practice of Karma Yoga, in order to effectuate the realisation of Oneness with the Divine that is the goal of that practice. We start from the normal human standpoint of being the “doer” of works for the purpose of achieving a personal benefit or result. We reach an interim stage where we do works without concern for the fruits, but as a dedication and service to the Divine Shakti. The final stage is one where there is a complete identification and the individual ego is transformed into a nexus of action of the Divine Shakti.
Sri Aurobindo describes this culminating stage: “The last stage of this perfection will come when you are completely identified with the Divine Mother and feel yourself to be no longer another and separate being, instrument, servant or worker but truly a child and eternal portion of her consciousness and force. Always she will be in you and you in her; it will be your constant, simple and natural experience that all your thought and seeing and action, your very breathing or moving come from her and are hers. You will know and see and feel that you are a person and power formed by her out of herself, put out from her for the play and yet always safe in her, being of her being, consciousness of her consciousness, force of her force, ananda of her Ananda. When this condition is entire and her supramental energies can freely move you, then you will be perfect in divine works; knowledge, will, action will become sure, simple, luminous, spontaneous, flawless, an outflow from the Supreme, a divine movement of the Eternal.”
There is always a risk or danger that as one begins to experience the power of the descent of the divine Shakti in one’s life, that the ego will try to take the opportunity to rise up and stake its own claim in the action. The increased clarity, power of action, insight, intuition that can accompany the descent of the Force certainly can provide food for the ego. Many have succumbed to the lure of the ego’s aggrandisement at some point in their spiritual pursuit, even to the extent of imagining that they are the “chosen” successor to a great prophet, teacher or religious leader, or that they are themselves singled out and “called” to deliver a new teaching or realisation to humanity, or even, in some cases, believing that they are the “return” of a great leader.
Another way the ego intervenes is in an attempt to take the incoming Force and apply it to self-serving benefits to the body, life or mind in some manner, whether to enhance personal power or prestige, to acquire physical comforts or luxuries, or to gain personal enjoyment in some form.
Sri Aurobindo addresses this risk: “While this transformatio is being done it is more than ever necessary to keep yourself free from all taint of the perversions of the ego. Let no demand or insistence creep in to stain the purity of the self-giving and the sacrifice. There must be no attachment to the work or the result, no laying down of conditions, no claim to possess the Power that should possess you, no pride of the instrument, no vanity or arrogance. Nothing int he mind or in the vital or physical parts should be suffered to distort to its own use or seize for its own personal and separate satisfaction the greatness of the forces that are acting through you. Let your faith, your sincerity, your purity of aspiration be absolute and pervasive of all the planes and layers of the being; then every disturbing element and distorting influence will progressively fall away from your nature.”
As the dedication of the fruits of works takes hold, and one loosens the grip of the ego-consciousness, a new phase begins wherein the individual begins to recognise the Divine Shakti undertaking the action.
Sri Aurobindo describes this stage: “But a time will come when you will feel more and more that you are the instrument and not the worker. For first by the force of your devotion your contact with the Divine Mother will become so intimate that at all times you will have only to concentrate and to put everything into her hands to have her present guidance, her direct command or impulse, the sure indication of the thing to be done and the way to do it and the result. And afterwards you will realise that the divine Shakti not only inspires and guides, but initiates and carries out your works; all your movements are originated by her, all your powers are hers, mind, life and body are conscious and joyful instruments of her action, means for her play, moulds for her manifestation in the physical universe. There can be no more happy condition than this union and dependence; for this step carries you back beyond the border-line from the life of stress and suffering in the ignorance into the truth of your spiritual being, into its deep peace and its intense Ananda.”
Sri Aurobindo’s description of the state of consciousness experienced by the seeker stresses the “joyful” and the “happy” state that results, with the experience of its “intense Ananda”. The experience of the ego is always one that is filled with stress and pressure to survive and thrive as a separated being with pressure being applied from outside. The liberation that occurs with the release of this limited, fragmented, separated being into a state of Oneness in which the Divine Shakti, the power of creation, simply acts through the instrument as a nexus, is a stress-free, joyful experience as described by Sri Aurobindo. It is also one of the succeeding phases in the systematic development from the small individual ego to the universal being and consciousness of the Divine manifestation.
While the eventual release of the egoistic sense of being the doer is necessary, there is a phase that precedes it during which the seeker still has the sense of “doing the work”. It is during this phase that the personal effort of the seeker is required. Sri Aurobindo acknowledges this and provides a prescription for weakening the hold of the ego:
“Until you are capable of this complete dynamic identification, you have to regard yourself as a soul and body created for her service, one who does all for her sake. Even if the idea of the separate worker is strong in you and you feel that it is yuo who do the act, yet it must be done for her. All stress of egoistic choice, all hankering after personal profit, all stipulation of self-regarding desire must be extirpated from the nature.”
The Bhagavad Gita, which clarified the practice of karma yoga, prescribed that one has the right to the doing of the work, but not the fruits of the work. This teaching aligns with Sri Aurobindo’s statement in this context:
“There must be no demand for fruit and no seeking for reward; the only fruit for you is the pleasure of the Divine Mother and the fulfilment of her work, your only reward a constant progression in divine consciousness and calm and strength and bliss. The joy of service and the joy of inner growth through works is the sufficient recompense of the selfless worker.”
The psychological standpoint for the seeker is the foundational basis for the practice and fulfilment of karma yoga.
As human beings we start from the standpoint of the egoistic consciousness, based in desire and self-interest. When we begin to recognise the fundamental reality of the spiritual life, that our normal standpoint of a separated, fragmented individual actor is in fact as unreal as the idea that the sun revolves around the earth, then we begin the process of transitioning to a new consciousness and new standpoint. This transition goes through several stages during which the ego-standpoint is successively attenuated until it eventually disappears into a consciousness of being a nexus or hub of the divine action. As long as the ego-consciousness remains, we look upon ourselves as the “doer”. The next phase is to reorient the consciousness of the “doer” to that of “doer of divine works”. This prepares the way for the eventual awareness that we are not the “doer” of work, but the occasion of the work done by the Divine Shakti.
Sri Aurobindo sets forth the conditions for the transition to take place from egoistic action to divine action: “If you want to be a true doer of divine works, your first aim must be to be totally free from all desire and self-regarding ego. All your life must be an offering and a sacrifice to the Supreme; your only object in action shall be to serve, to receive, to fulfil, to become a manifesting instrument of the Divine Shakti in her works. You must grow in the divine consciousness till there is not difference between your will and hers, no motive except her impulsion in you, no action that is not her conscious action in you and through you.”
In the final analysis, the money power is really not about any particular individual’s needs, desires or comforts; rather it is about putting to work the “universal force” that money represents as a transformative force in the supramental evolutionary process. Money acts on the physical plane and can thus be used to infuse beauty and harmony into matter. It also acts on the vital plane to move resources where they are needed to support the developments that need to occur. Money, properly applied, can help relieve the enormous suffering caused by oppression, poverty, and imbalances of resource allocations that have plagued mankind throughout history.
The role of the practitioner of integral yoga then is to facilitate the transition of the money power from its corrupted forms to the true role it can play as a power for positive development in the supramental creation:
“In the supramental creation the money-force has to be restored to the Divine Power and used for a true and beautiful and harmonious equipment and ordering of a new divinised vital and physical existence in whatever way the Divine Mother herself decides in her creative vision. But first it must be conquered back for her and those will be strongest for the conquest who are in this part of their nature strong and large and free from ego and surrendered without any claim or withholding or hesitation, pure and powerful channels for the Supreme Puissance.”
Sri Aurobindo proposes the ideal standpoint for the practitioner of integral yoga in relation to money: “The ideal Sadhaka in this kind is one who if required to live poorly can so live and no sense of want will affect him or interfere with the full play of the divine consciousness, and if he is required to live richly, can so live and never for a moment fall into desire or attachment to his wealth or to the things that he uses or servitude to self-indulgence or a weak bondage to the habits that the possession of riches creates. The divine Will is all for him and the divine Ananda.”
Spiritual disciplines have long had a tradition of requiring the seeker to live a life of poverty and dedication. They recognized the distractions and tempations that money can cause and wanted to simplify the issues. One of the biggest challenges lies on the other side–the ability to handle wealth without losing the dedication and focus on spiritual life.
We can use Sri Aurobindo’s guideline here as a mechanism to review our internal reactions and keep ourselves oriented toward the spiritual realisation.
There are many interesting stories used to illustrate the risk of “outward” renunciation but “inward” desire. One may be outwardly poor, but this does not always lead to focus on the spiritual principles. If the state of being poor leads the seeker into the desire for material goods or wealth, or focuses his attention on those things, then the outward renunciation of wealth has not led to a true inner freedom. Similarly, if one is wealthy, but uses the freedom and opportunity to provided to focus on spiritual realisation, then we see the inner freedom without requiring the outer renunciation.
The ancient legends of India provide the example of Emperor Yudhisthira, who was renowned for his wisdom, truthfulness and dispassion. After becoming an enormously wealthy emperor receiving the support and tribute of virtually all the kings of ancient India, he adhered to his righteousness and agreed to depart the throne for 12 years in the forest, and 1 year living incognito. He voluntarily gave up a life of enormous wealth and power, although he had the resources to hold onto his throne, and lived contentedly without wealth in the forest during this exile.